Travel to Italy, sans passport.

Frank Pullara is literally living his dream. One he has had since the age of eight or 10. Born to cook, he comes from a big Italian family who loved to cook and eat. He inherited that love and nurtured it, first with culinary school, then as a professional chef.

As with most chefs, he has always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. He partnered with a cousin to operate eateries in Naples, Florida. But he wanted his own place, and like Frank Sinatra sang, to “do it his way.”

After an exhausting search for the place to make the big step, he visited up and coming food cities like Asheville, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia and Franklin, Tennessee.

“This place just felt like home immediately,” he said. “My wife and I came, visited, loved it. We see it as a perfect place professionally and for our family. We have five-year-old twins, one of whom is already watching cooking shows, pretending to make pasta with his playdough, and looking at cookbooks with pictures. I see him following in my footsteps,” said the talented young chef.

He moved to Franklin in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. He opened his fantastic Italian restaurant, Culaccino, in January this year. Located at 104 East Main Street in downtown in the Harpeth Square mixed use development, he says he has hit a perfect spot.

“First of all, the people here in Williamson are so nice, so welcoming, so interested in trying out a new restaurant. We have a large base of repeat local customers which is the backbone of a restaurant. We are family friendly, with our own kids’ menu, but also a place for couples to enjoy a great dinner at a great price,” he said.

His menu offers some adventurous dishes like octopus and rabbit. Open for lunch and dinner, he offers a longtime favorite of mine, chicken liver pate. You don’t see that everywhere, nor the asparagus fritters that sell like hotcakes. His pasta is made from scratch, no boxed products in this rustic Italian setting.

His dining is inside and outside with a total of 170 seats.

“That’s the sweet spot for me, 150 to 170 seats. It’s large enough to accommodate business, but small enough to keep everything consistent. Our staff is well trained; they learn the names of repeat diners and use it in their welcoming. We want our staff to know our customers and our customers to know us,” he said.

He uses local vendors like Bear Creek Farms and Urban Sprouts.

“We use all the local product we can. Sometimes, the demand is greater than the supply, but it’s our intention to source locally. Local makes for fresher ingredients, food, plus we like being part of the community,” he said.

Among my favorites is the calamari. Certainly, all the pasta dishes are fresh and fabulous. Ravioli is one of customers’ favorites, as is gnocchi. The lentil soup is a tweaked version of his grandmother’s recipe. Other dishes are also adapted family recipes. He has developed others from scratch based on his favorite, Italian cuisine.

“I grew up Italian, that’s the food and manner of cooking I know and love. I like other cuisines, of course. Give me a taco any day of the week. But starting out in my first solo venture, I wanted what I know and love,” he said.

The wine list is global, with an emphasis on Italian. Customers will find some of their known and loved wines, but also the opportunity to venture out to new vintages. There’s a full bar that is inside and extends to the outside. The patio dining features a fire pit for customers to gather round to have a drink or a great place to await a table. Craft cocktails are seasonally designed.

Inside, reservations are available but not necessary; outside it’s all walk-in. This casual dining mecca draws from not only the Harpeth Hotel and the apartments there, but from across the area. He says visitors are in the mix, but primarily it’s locals and repeats.

A stand-out on the dessert list (always perused before I order appetizers, main and side dishes,) is a beautiful and innovative tiramisu with ganache. It’s presented in artful handmade pottery. It’s as beautiful visually as it is delicious. The classic dish is tweaked, Lady fingers are even made in-house.

Other sweets are sweet to the soul, as well. Salads are creative and crisp, main dishes and sides fine and filling. The kids’ menu, instead of the perennial favorite chicken fingers, offers pasta, handmade pizzas, even steak. Pullara helps budding palates expand.

“My kids love butter pasta. They order it almost every time they’re here,” said the devoted dad.

Lunch is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After 2:30 they serve an in between menu featuring the likes of handmade pizza and small bites. Dinner begins at 4:30 p.m. and extends until 10 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursdays dinner extends to 10:30 p.m. and on the weekends, until 1 a.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Culaccino is welcoming, comfortable and warm with familiar dishes as well as adventurous offerings. It’s a must try. Masks are not required. Bon Appetit.

Culaccino, 140 East Main, historic downtown Franklin.

(615) 435-3539

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